As Terminal Server and other third-party products incorporate features such as published applications, portal integration and load balancing, Citrix is seeing its value-add to Terminal Server decrease in the small to medium business (SMB) market. In this article, we focus a ten ways that Citrix can begin to add value again to the basic Terminal Server platform and recapture some of the small to medium market.
As Citrix and Terminal Server consultants, we’re often asked what Citrix adds to Terminal Server that justifies its extra licensing costs and possibly an investment in some extra hardware. Up until a year ago or so the answer to this question was easy. Citrix gave you published applications, high color resolution, client printer access, better access to client devices, a web interface, a secure way to access the servers, and seamless windows. Even small customers could realize significant value by using Citrix.
Terminal Services in Windows Server 2003 further eroded the list of Citrix add-ons that were relevant in small and medium environments. These companies must now weigh the cost of Citrix MetaFrame licenses against a list of features that now only include published applications with seamless windows, load balancing, a web portal, and a secure proxy to the servers. While Citrix is really the only solution that offers the management and scaling tools required in enterprise environments, the features required by the majority of small and medium businesses are slowly being added by Microsoft themselves or other third-party vendors that have a much lower per-user cost. In addition, Microsoft is publicly admitting that the next version of Terminal Server will have published applications, moving Terminal Services directly into Citrix’s SMB space—a space that for many years turned to Citrix for those features that made Citrix what it is today.
SMB customers have always been and will continue to be different from enterprise customers.
Is it all about access?
Citrix’s new marketing strategy focuses access to applications. While access from multiple devices via multiple avenues is definitely the future of our business, most SMB customers don’t care about this. They want to know what they’re getting for their money right now, in six months, and in the next year. Plus, these small clients are usually just trying to get access to a few applications. They want a specific set of features which generally doesn’t include huge amounts of management and access tools.
Small and medium businesses don’t have 50 or 100 servers in multiple locations with hundreds of applications and multiple admin teams. Instead, they have probably 1 to 15 servers in a single location with one or two administrators. These customers don’t need delegated management, Citrix policies, multiple zones, complex load balancing, or scalability into the hundreds of servers. They need the basic functionality of Terminal Services with a few additions.
Since Microsoft has closed the Terminal Services functionality gap in Windows 2003 and cheaper third party-products are offer published applications and other features, small and medium customers are moving from Citrix to either pure Terminal Services systems or Terminal Services systems with other less expensive and less feature-rich third-party products.
In order to keep these clients, Citrix needs to improve their base Presentation Server product rather than trying to wrap a ton of other products around it that customers may not want to pay for. When Citrix was in its heyday, they were the only choice if you wanted published applications and web access to those applications. Since then, they’ve ignored (or didn’t find important right away or didn’t want to upset their partners) all the other “little” features that several vendors popped up to create (like universal Print drivers, desktop configuration tools, process throttling, etc).
With that in mind, Brian and I came up with numerous ways that Citrix can improve on their base Presentation Server product. These features, changes, and suggestions really revolve around making Terminal Server function better and making the Citrix products more enticing for SMB clients. We believe that in order to remain a huge market force and be that “must have” software again in the SMB space, Citrix should return to its roots and spend a little time making its product do what Terminal Server should do. The following list contains the top 10 improvements to the core product that we believe would launch Citrix back into the small to medium space.
Ten Changes / Improvements Citrix should make to MetaFrame Presentation Server
- Create a MetaFrame Presentation Server “Lite”
- Include process throttling or prioritization and memory optimizations for applications
- Productize hybrid profiles and move them into XPa and XPe
- Add session hibernation for disconnected or idle sessions
- Add the ability to move live sessions from one server to another
- Integrate “Go To My Desktop” into the Web Interface
- Include a desktop lock down and configuration tool
- Add the ability to publish applications to specific workstations or IP subnets
- Drop the Price of XPs and XPa
- Stop pitching “other” products to Terminal Server people
Each of these items adds an enormous amount of value to the Terminal Server platform and would push Citrix past its peers, even with the persistent Bear Paw rumors.
Lets take a look at each feature individually and see what it would bring to the customer and possibly how it could be done from a technical stand point.
Create MetaFrame Presentation Server “Lite”
Microsoft has successfully packaged together many of their enterprise server products into a simple to manage and less expensive product called Small Business Server. Citrix should follow suit and create a “Lite” or “Small Business” version of MetaFrame Presentation Server. This would be much different than today’s MetaFrame XPs product. It should include:
- Load balancing abilities (but only with the built-in load evaluators)
- Ability to publish applications and use file extensions
- A lighter CMC/MMC with certain nodes removed
- The ICA perfmon counters (but none of the other Resource Manager features)
- A universal print driver
- The “other” standard MetaFrame Presentation Server features, including web interface, secure gateway, and SafeWord integration.
What should be removed for MetaFrame Lite?
- The ability to delegate administration
- No zone configuration (All servers would reside in a single zone)
- No advanced management tools
- No print driver replication
- No Citrix user policies
- No custom load evaluators
- No reporting tools, network management, installation management, or resource management.
MetaFrame Presentation Server Lite should be priced at a lower cost to better compete with other products while still adding value to the existing Terminal Server product. Citrix might even want to consider selling this as a per server or per processor model, or these farms could be limited to 5-10 servers and would require a license upgrade to get larger.
Allowing customers to access to these “advanced” features of MetaFrame Lite at a reasonable price brings Citrix back into the fold for small businesses today. With the trend in IT to do more with less, small business administrators may have to make a choice to spend their additional $15,000 in their budget on a new antivirus system, spam filter, or client management software instead of 50 Citrix CALs. An affordable small business version of MetaFrame where the features are worth $1500 per processor or $100-125 per user brings Citrix back in the game for SMBs.
Include Process Prioritization and Memory Optimization for Applications
An instant value-add for any client would be the ability to control processes and processor utilization at the published application level. Currently neither Citrix nor Terminal Services alone offer this. Imagine changing the properties of a published application (not in some other interface) and editing its target, adding users, then setting an execution profile for X amount of processor and Y memory, or checking the “Bad Application” check box. Instant value add, big bonus over native Terminal Server, and none of the other competitors (Jetro, Tarantella, etc.) are doing it.
Productize the Hybrid Profile System
For almost a year and half we have heard that this might, someday, one day, if possible, become a product. Well if there was ever a time for it its now. More clients out there need this product. Citrix Consulting Services and RapidApp are the only two companies who can implement the “official” Citrix Hybrid Profile System. Many times this is cost prohibitive or customers aren’t even aware that this “product” exists.
By adding the ability to run Citrix Hybrid Profiles on any MetaFrame system Citrix would solve a problem that has plagued Terminal Server users since 1998. Talk about adding a feature to basic Terminal Server. This itself would be a huge benefit for many customers. Want to put Citrix back on top with a feature that no one else has? This could be one of them.
Session Hibernation for Disconnected or Idle sessions
This feature would allow a disconnected or timed out session to hibernate like a laptop. Basically, using the laptop idea, a session would time out or disconnect as normal then after the timeout expires the session would be written to a hibernation file (like when laptop hibernates). Then, if the user reconnects, this hibernation file would be reactivated and the user would be reconnected to this session.
The beauty of this is that the session resources are released when the session hibernates instead of just having to disconnect or reset the user. Also, a timestamp could be placed on the hibernation files and a second timeout could be added to these files allowing administrators to limit these hibernations to 24 or 48 hours.
Ability to move live sessions from one server to another
This feature could tie into the previous one. I mean if you can write a session to a file why not use that ability to move users to a new server. Citrix already has a disconnected session configuration that allows for auto reconnection. Why not be able to send a message to all the clients that they will be disconnected for a few seconds. During this time the sessions are saved to files. When the client begins its auto-reconnect the source server has its logons disabled and users are routed to another server. This target server picks up the hibernation files (maybe out of the home directory) and restarts the user’s sessions.
For administrators running 24-hour shops like hospitals this tool would be completely invaluable and more than likely justify the cost of Citrix on its own.
Integrate Go to My Desktop into the Web Interface
With the acquisition of GoToMyPC, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the “Go To My Desktop” button in the Web Interface. Even today’s biggest MetaFrame environments do not have 100% of their applications on MetaFrame Presentation Servers. The vast majority are hybrid environments that fat clients and thin client devices. Why not utilize the security features of Web Interface and MetaFrame Secure Gateway to integrate a GoToMyPC option. With this, users could use the Web Interface to access MetaFrame applications or their own personal desktop workstation from anywhere in the world.
Include a desktop lockdown and configuration tool
Most people are surprised that Citrix hasn’t yet created a tool like this. The basic idea is to give small business administrators the ability to configure a user’s entire desktop environment from a simple interface. While most companies with large environments have staff experienced in scripting, creating group policies, customizing desktops at login, and modifying the user environment, most small company administrators struggle with this on a daily basis. We can’t even begin to tell you how many questions we see in the public groups that a small tool like this could fix.
This tool should have the ability to do the following:
• Configure the desktop background
• Configure desktop icons and mark the icons or the entire desktop as read/execute only
• Configure customized start menus that can be marked as read/execute or modifiable
• Configure folder redirection for My Documents and Application Data
• Change client registry settings environmental variables at login
• Select which drives are visible or hidden
• Ensure that users cannot run unauthorized applications
Of course you can do each of these things now with scripting or resource kit tools. This desktop configuration tool would instead provide a nice configuration GUI front end. Ideally this tool would tie into the Hybrid Profile System, creating a complete profile management system as part of MetaFrame.
Ability to publish applications to specific clients or IP subnets
Only one other company is currently doing this. This is great for kiosk machines or environments that have roaming users (like hospitals). The nice thing about this is it would provide more security than a “guest” account in web interface, and would also allows customers to limit anonymous applications to specific locations within a network without having to do a ton of Web Interface (ASP and VBS) customization. Why doesn’t everyone do this?
Drop the price of MetaFrame Presentation Server XPs and XPa
Okay, so technically this isn’t a “feature,” but it is a reality. Citrix is pretty much twice the price of anyone else in their space. Don’t get me wrong I truly believe that Citrix also has four times the number of features that everyone else has even in the “s” and “a” versions. But features that small clients don’t need are useless features.
Let’s examine this from a pure sales perspective. I was once told that I get half of what my brother sells in his business card business. The problem is that he never sold many because his cards were twice the price of everyone else’s (even though his quality was way higher). Guess what I got half of? Half of almost nothing. That’s the problem Citrix will have in the SMB market in the future. They will provide a best-in-class product that has a billion features. The problem is that the client they may be trying to sell to only needs 10 features.
They should make it more enticing. Drop the price of CALs for XPs and XPa and give the buyers a tough choice instead of an easy one. Get a chance to make your argument by getting in the door. Just like a fry cook is not going to spend much time at the Jaguar dealer looking for a new car, small businesses are not going to spend much time looking at a product that they know they can’t even come close to justifying. But if they can say it’s a reasonable price for a huge benefit, that’s an argument a business manager understands.
Stop pitching “other” products to Terminal Server people
Citrix has five products now: MetaFrame Presentation Server, MetaFrame Secure Access Manager, MetaFrame Conferencing Server, MetaFrame Password Manager, and GoToMyPC/GoToAssist.
Citrix’s core market has always been their Presentation Server. Citrix should stop trying to bundle unrelated products into an Access Suite with no strong message and instead should pitch each product to the “proper” targets.
Terminal Server people don’t fundamentally care about Content Delivery Agents, and vice versa.
Brian and I basically brainstormed all of these features over the course of about 30 minutes. Citrix has surely thought of some of these on their own, but we’re hoping that Citrix takes these suggestions to heart. Is there anything we’ve missed? Add your comments below.